Aidan Smith: Cousin Blair Kinghorn and a debut to remember

Favourite memory from Murrayfield last Saturday? Take your pick, there were so many. You could nominate the epic performance of John Barclay, leading from the front as the captain, a souped-up forklift in the loose, and with his beard and ruddy face, looking like a rebel commander in Game of Thrones as he howled at the moon to urge his men to give a little bit more.
Blair Kinghorn made his Scotland debut as a replacement in the stunning Calcutta Cup win over England. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS/SRUBlair Kinghorn made his Scotland debut as a replacement in the stunning Calcutta Cup win over England. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS/SRU
Blair Kinghorn made his Scotland debut as a replacement in the stunning Calcutta Cup win over England. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS/SRU

Or you could choose that long, long pass from Finn Russell. The one launched from a circus cannon in defiance of his critics. It was the “And for my next trick … ” flourish of a Victorian travelling show’s daredevil faced with his hardest-to-please audience. It was the equivalent of chaining yourself upside down in a fiendish water-chamber, just like Harry Houdini, except that Finn lived to tell the tale and see his pass set up Scotland’s second try.

Or you might prefer the beautiful, spine-tingling moment when, with ten minutes remaining, Flower of Scotland started up in six different parts of the stadium. The effect was like fires on hillsides lit by villages to guide the heroes home. I thought that the Tartan Army singing The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond to drown out the “F*** the IRA” chants of the Ingurlanders when we played the Auld Enemy at football at Celtic Park in 2014 couldn’t be beat. Last Saturday it was.

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But please allow this small indulgence: my Auntie Jean leaping to her feet and bursting into tears was my high point of an unforgettable day. Her son Simon, my cousin, was next to her and he was crying as he was cheering. Blair Kinghorn was coming on.

As Simon’s son, Blair is my first cousin once removed. I’m thrilled with this connection. The sporting achievements of the extended family before this famous win amounted to an extremely modest roll-of-honour. They wouldn’t have filled one of the blank pages left for notes at the back of a Wee Red Book.

Let’s see: my father had a couple of games in goal for Edinburgh City just after the Second World War, although the only pictorial evidence of him doing anything remotely sporty is a shot of him playing tennis in a fez, having faked his age to enlist for national service as a “desert rat”. I once hit a hole-in-one at the par 3 third on the Broomhouse course at Montrose and, er, unless we count my mother’s Indian club-twirling for the Women’s League of Health and Beauty – which we probably shouldn’t owing to the Nuremberg-esque nature of the displays – that’s about it.

Blair’s grandfather, my late Uncle Adam, was a big Hearts fan who idolised Willie Bauld and collected his morning paper from ex-Tynecastle winger Johnny Hamilton’s shop in Slateford, Edinburgh – and he would have been thrilled to see the lad made it all the way through the Jambos academies and into the first team. But no more overjoyed by the sight of him, after swapping the round ball for an egg, wearing the dark blue of his country, pictured above right.

“It was a wonderful moment,” said Auntie Jean. “Blair bounced on to the pitch and I said to myself: ‘Please, dear Lord, look after my grandson. Don’t let him get injured so he can enjoy his 15 minutes of glory’.”

“I was less worried about him getting hurt,” said Simon, “and more concerned that he didn’t make a mistake to let in England. Blair was on the bench for the previous game against France. I told you then that I thought he’d only get on if we were losing by 20 points or winning by 25.

“I said to his mum Karen last Saturday that it was looking like the same scenario. The game was too tight and I didn’t think we’d get to see him. But then I spotted that Tommy Seymour was injured and I thought: ‘Wow!’

“Although Blair didn’t get a touch of the ball, he made six tackles and there were no mistakes. And we got to see the capping ceremony in the President’s Suite where in front of the whole squad he had to sing a song. He chose Cheerleader by OMI. He told me he didn’t know what he was going to sing but I think he’d been practising.

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“Another tradition is downing a drink from each of the guys who played – 22 in all – and that was before he got to sup from the Calcutta Cup. Who knew that kind of thing still happened in the pro era? Then the team trooped off to the Why Not nightclub. It was just a magic day.”

For me, there was another moment which came close to matching Blair’s grand entrance and it was of course Huw Jones’ second try. One week on and I still don’t know how he got the ball down. When the score is re-shown on TV, as it surely will be, year upon year, it will only keep improving.

Mike Brown and Anthony Watson – combined weight: the best part of 30 stone – were the two England guys charged with stopping him. With a tight grip of his ankles it seemed inevitable that they would. But Jones, having been halted for a split-second, found another gear. It was like he was a sideshow to Finn Russell’s trick passing and dragging immovable objects on a rope. It was like he was emerging from white quicksand. Brown and Watson could do nothing but tumble over the line with him.

There was a big cartoon element to Jones’ score which qualifies it for a place on the honours-board of truly electric moments in Scottish sport. He’s now up there with Andy Murray, Jim Clark, Denis Law and the rest. Am I getting too carried away? Well, I reckon there have been more beautiful tries, fantastic team tries and more important tries from Scotland down the years, but have we ever scored one displaying such gobsmacking Popeye muscle-power against a team ranked second in the world? And against a team whose commentators a few short years ago were saying the Six Nations should have a second tier and we should be in it.

It should also be said that at the vital moment supporters at that end of the stadium all sucked in their cheeks simultaneously and the wind-force probably helped carry Jones to glory. If we were to win then the crowd were going to have to play their part. England had questioned Murrayfield’s power beforehand insisting “atmosphere” doesn’t make victories. But they hadn’t reckoned on Auntie Jean.